By Jayson Jacoby
The federal Farm Bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday includes a one-year funding extension for a program that's a vital source of revenue for Baker County and other rural Oregon counties.
The bill, which is expected to easily pass the Senate and also has President Obama's endorsement, extends the PILT program - Payments In Lieu of Taxes.
Under PILT, which started in 1976, the federal government sends money to counties that have large amounts of federal land, which is not subject to property taxes, within their borders.
Almost half of Baker County's 2 million acres are federal land.
The county receives an annual PILT payment of about $800,000, said Fred Warner Jr., chairman of the Baker County Board of Commissioners.
Warner said he had hoped Congress would approve a four- or five-year extension for PILT.
Nonetheless, he said he's confident the program will continue.
In that sense PILT is quite different from another federal payment to counties: the Secure Rural Schools, more commonly known simply as "county payments."
That program started in 2000 and was intended as a temporary measure to help counties that suffered from a dramatic decline in logging on federal lands. Counties receive 25 percent of the logging revenue.
County payments have been on the threshold of ending several times but they've been spared each time.
Baker County has received about $800,000 per year through the program, but Warner said PILT is a much more important source of money for the county.
Since the county payments started, the county has had to deduct the amount if receives from its PILT payment, Warner said.
However, if Congress fails to renew county payments, the city would receive its full PILT payment, and basically get the same amount it's collecting now from the combination of PILT and county payments.